Edible Insects for Dinner and Discussion

February 2, 2017

How willing are you to eat a bug?

For most Americans or Western Europeans, the answer is probably, “thanks but no thanks.” Yet the idea of using insects as food is starting to gain traction in the West. In fact, the odds are good that you could go to your local supermarket today and find several products that feature insects as an ingredient.

And why not? Studies have proven that insects are packed with protein and other nutrients, plus they are quick to mature and require much less land to produce. So with the growing trend toward high-protein convenience food, startups and investors have taken notice:

  • Six Foods — Started by three Harvard graduates, Six Foods raised nearly $70,000 on Kickstarter to launch Chirps, a line of cricket chips. Six Foods also supplies a line of cricket based cookie mix.
  • Exo — Exo offers protein bars that come in five different flavors. They have raised over $5M in funding, making them one of the most well known startups in this space
  • Tiny Farms- Founded in 2012 in Oakland, California, Tiny Farms has raised money from Arielle Zuckerberg (Mark’s sister) to build open source cricket farming infrastructure and supply other startups with bugs and flours.
  • Chapul — Featured on Shark Tank and claiming to have launched the first insect-protein product in the US, Chapul sells award-winning protein bars and donates 1% of sales to water conservation efforts.
  • Flying Spark — Based in Israel, Flying Spark offers fruit fly larvae-based protein powder and cooking oil. The company is one of few using fruit flies rather than crickets, stating that they’re more cost effective.

But are people actually going to eat this stuff, or will the thought of insect-based foods remain, well… gag inducing, in the minds of most western consumers. These startups are making headlines and attracting seed capital, but in reality this is still a very niche space.

Insects do show huge promise as a sustainable option for feed. Just not for human feed. Companies around the world have raised significant capital to farm black soldier flies, mostly for the aquaculture market. But not everybody is convinced that insects are the home run solution the claim to be: some argue that feed conversion ratios (for chickens) do not actually show huge improvements over traditional feed, and that crickets fed solely food waste often die before they can be harvested. And as we’ve recently discussed, though there are huge opportunities for these companies, significant challenges remain in building out a viable industry and resilient supply chains.

At the end of the day, though, all the startups in this space are raising awareness of important issues facing our food system, and starting to move the needle toward the food system of the future. If it takes a suspiciously crunchy taco to get there, I’m in.